Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer (9.15.22)


Opening statement:

“Before we get started, we will talk a little bit about last week and my perspective on last week. With a young team, you have to find ways to win. You have to go into that game on a hot Sunday afternoon against a good football team with a lot to play for and you have to find a way to win, and that is what we did. I was real proud though of the entire team, but on special teams, we did a lot of good things. Some things, we have to get a lot better, and we know that. This week, the perspective that I have to take and the motivation that I have coaching our guys this week is how do we handle winning. When you have a young team coming off an emotional win, you have to find ways to get them back to work, get them motivated and getting ready to roll. I think we have done that this week. I know our Head Coach (Kevin Stefanski) does a phenomenal job with that. We have a bunch of good coaches that do that. We have a bunch of good veteran leaders, even though we are young. Our veteran leaders have done a nice job at the beginning part of this week and on with the meetings this morning and walkthrough and everything. Try to figure out how do we handle winning. How do we get prepared for this next opponent? New York is going to come in here with guns blazing, they are going to be ready to roll and they are going to play hard. Their head coach (NY Jets head coach Robert Saleh) is a tough guy, and he coaches them tough. (NY Jets special teams coordinator) Brant Boyer is an outstanding special teams coordinator. He is going to get them ready to play. He played hard when he was a player. I coached against him. You guys remember him here. He was a good football player, and he is a good football coach. They have a lot of talent on their special teams. From their kicker (NY Jets K Greg Zuerlein) and their returner, (NY Jets WR Braxton) Berrios is one of the top returners in our game both punt and kickoff return. Greg Zuerlein has been doing this for a long time as their placekicker. (NY Jets P) Braden Mann is a good young punter. I think he is fighting a little bit of a back issue. He struggled a little bit on Sunday, but he is very talented. They have corps players all over the place that are really good players for us that are going to pose a challenge for us on Sunday.”


On K Cade York’s game-winning FG and confidence in York facing that situation:

“Honestly, I was hoping we would get to the 40. I know Coach (Stefanski) has said that and Cade has said that. That is honestly where we thought we needed to get to. Get to the 40-yard line, make it a 58-yarder and give him the best chance. Our offense did a phenomenal job getting there. I thought Coach did a great job of using the timeouts there at the end. The game management was really good. I thought they would kick it a little bit shorter to us to try to waste some time off the clock, but they did not do that. Our young kickoff returner did a nice job in that situation of letting the ball go into the endzone and give us the ball at the 25 with 1:10 or 1:15 to go. Brought it down to 13 seconds, and we made it. In that situation, we were concerned about whether or not that flag was going to stand with the intentional grounding. With the 10 second runoff, we were going to have to do what we call an ‘umpire alert’ which means with three seconds left, we have to get everybody ready and they are going to wind the clock and we have to snap the ball immediately. We were ready for that situation, as well, and then it turned out there were 13 seconds left.”


On if intentional grounding was called it would have been a 10-yard penalty and a 10-second clock run-off, resulting in a 68-yard FG attempt, and if the team would have attempted it from that distance:

“I think so. I think it is a 10-yard penalty. It would have been a 68-yarder. I think you would have to. That type of day with very little wind and I think the wind was blowing maybe a little bit in that direction – I do not remember – but it was a nice day, and he made it. I do not know how long he would have made it from, but he crushed that thing.”


On if he would have been confidence in York making a 68-yard kick:

“From what I have seen – I know you guys have seen a little bit of it, too – in practice and since we drafted him, I have a lot of confidence in his leg. Sixty-eight is quite a stretch, but he has a tremendous leg, and he has a lot of confidence in that leg.”


On if York is still the same type of person and player since the game-winning FG and earning AFC Special Teams Player of the Week:

“He was great. That is what you are concerned about with a young player. We had a nice talk yesterday morning. I will not get into details, but basically I said, ‘Hey look, I am proud of you. You did a great job, but remember why you made those kicks. Remember how you put yourself in that situation to be successful.’ The hard work, the study, he studies his technique constantly. He is always trying to tweak things a little bit here and there to try to continue to get better and understand why you put yourself in that position. Quite frankly, the week is over. Let’s move on to the next play. We have 16 regular season games left and hopefully the playoffs. When you approach it that way, you understand why you were successful and you build on that as your foundation, I think the sky is the limit for him.”


On if York is capable of kicking the football with a left-to-right movement and right-to-left like Sunday’s game-winning FG:

“Left to right, he would have to wrap his foot a little bit more, and probably not at that distance I would think. If there is a little bit of crosswind and if there is a left-to-right crosswind and you have to put it a little bit left, I think he hits more of a straight ball that way into the left where the wind would push it right. You do not want have a right-footed kicker do ‘this’ [moves left to right]. I think that might be a bad idea, but that is the right concept.”


On if York will always draw kicks from right to left from longer distances:

“Draw or just hit it straight, depending on the wind.”


On the Browns adding WR Chester Rogers to the practice squad and if Rogers could potentially become a return option:

“We are working with him. Even though he is a six-year veteran, there are some things I need him to work on. We talked about that yesterday. We will continue to talk about it the rest of the week. Being on practice squad, you would have to make a roster move to get him up on the 53 and get him into the 48 for the gameday roster. I am not sure if we are there yet, but it is nice to have him there as an insurance policy. (RB) Demetric (Felton Jr.) did some good things. He just has to get out of his own head sometimes. He does not hit the seam and hit the return like we need him to, and I think he will and he has before. First game out there, we did not block for him particularly well in a couple of those returns. We got after them. We almost blocked one punt. We should have blocked another punt. (DE) Myles (Garrett) almost blocked the field goal at the end of the game. I do not know if you guys saw that. He got through there on a swim and missed it. It went right by his left hand. We had shoulda-coulda-woulda. We will keep working with Demetric. I have a lot of confidence in him. I think he is an outstanding athlete that is still learning as a punt returner. That was his first game. You just can’t put the ball on the ground.  Other than that, he was fine. You just can’t put the ball on the ground. That has to be eliminated, and he knows that.”


On what it says about the City of Cleveland that a K like York can be considered a ‘folk hero’ after last week’s game-winning FG:

“I think it is great for him, I think it is great for the city. He has to keep it going. I think he said it best, if he misses one kick on Sunday, then nobody likes me. This is a very fickle business. Fans are always fickle. I am a big Cleveland Indians/Guardians fan, and I am kind of fickle at times, too. I think at the end of the day, I was very proud of our entire team. I thought we won every phase with the exception of field goal block. If we would have blocked that one, obviously we would have won that phase. We played a solid game. We have a lot of work to do in order to play a complete game. That is going to be my message to the team. It started today or yesterday, and it will continue on throughout the week. We need to play a complete game all six phases to help our team win on Sunday.”


On how Browns fans will react to York making his regular season home debut on Sunday:

“I am sure he is going to get a standing ovation as soon as he goes out there for that first PAT or that first kickoff. The other thing we did not touch on yet is his kickoffs are really good. We covered two really well. We hit a touchback on purpose at the end of the first half. We had one of our guys leave a little bit early, which was unacceptable. He kind of smiled. We called Kevin to call timeout which was really smart because it was hot. We brought him over, and I just said, ‘Hey, let’s do it again. Put it through the uprights.’ I believe he did, and he just loved the challenge. Touchback from the 30-yard line through the uprights is hard to do. He needs to know that he needs to play a well-rounded game, as well, both kickoff and field goal. I am sure he will get a nice reception on Sunday.”


On if it can be hard for a 21-year old player like York who shows up to the home stadium for the first time and the fans go crazy for him after last week’s game-winning FG:

“One of the things we mentioned I believe last week – I have said it a couple of times before this summer – is that he is a very mature 21-year old. I think he can handle it. Again, he knows why he is good. It is not just because God gave him a great leg –  that is one of the main reasons – but he is going to continue to improve and continue to work and really try to be the most consistent kicker he can be. He mentioned to you guys that he struggled in pregame and it was not a very good pregame. I was like, ‘OK,’ and had a little pep talk and said, ‘Hey, you know why you are good. Relax.’ He was thinking about too much. He probably a little bit nervous. He is a very mature young man, and I think that really works to his favor, especially as a young place kicker.”


On Cleveland’s reaction to York and the game-winning FG:

“It is the greatest city in the world. I keep telling you guys this is God’s Country. Why not? The quarterback can be a folk hero kicker, the punter or returner. (Browns Legend WR/KR/PR) Josh Cribbs is a folk hero, wasn’t he? He was a special teamer, a great special teamer. I never liked going against him when I had to coach against him.”


On the backup LS on FGs, given Bengals LS Clark Harris sustained an injury last week:

“We have worked several guys. (Former Browns and 49ers G) Blake Hance was the backup short snapper. He left. (TE) Harrison Bryant has been training since he has been here to be out backup short and long snapper. We have a couple of guys on the practice squad who we have worked with before. In my career – I have made this known to other people in our building – I have had to use the backup snapper on three different occasions. We always had a plan. We have a plan for backup holder, backup snapper and backup everywhere. That is our job to make sure it is ready. I am sure (Bengals special teams coordinator/assistant head coach) Darrin (Simmons) did down in Cincinnati. I think the PAT was just the wing let the guy in. The timing was good. I watched it this morning. (Steelers S Minkah) Fitzpatrick did a great job of blocking the kick, and I do not think it had anything to do with the snapper. The one in overtime was a high snap. As coaches, we always have to have contingency plans for all of those sorts of things. We have been working that since I became a special teams coordinator a long time ago.”


On what makes LS Charley Hughlett such a good LS:

“He is a special young man. He is about to have his third child. His wife is going to give birth any day now. He is a good person, a good father, a good husband, a good teammates and really good snapper. It is so important to him. He is always working. In fact, I think he is a better snapper now than when I got here in 2019 because of all the work he has put in. He takes care of his body. He has a good diet. Everything he does – we talk about consistency – everything [is consistent] I always ask him, ‘Hey, Charley, what do you do? What is your most important job besides being a husband and father, which is the most important job?’ He goes, ‘Snap the ball.’ That is his answer, ‘Snap the ball.’ More important than protection and more important than anything else he does, but he is also a leader. He has also really helped Cade. When Cade had that pregame on Sunday, I talked to Charley, ‘Let’s settle him down.’ Charley did a great job with him. He wears a bunch of different hats for us. He is one of our captains. He is on our leadership committee. Bottom line, he is a really good snapper, and it is important to me he works hard on his craft.”


On if Hughlett can place the laces wherever desired when long snapping:

“Laces straight ahead. He can do it pretty consistent – about 90 percent, I would say.”


On if there is a risk that Hughlett could miss the game on Sunday, given Hughlett’s wife is expecting a third child:

“No, he won’t miss the game.”


On what makes NY WR Jets Braxton Berrios so good as a returner:

“Courageous for a smaller athlete. Courageous. Incredibly quick. Punt return-wise, the quickness is making that first man miss. I have talked about it, he is our ultimate cover-drill returner. We work that two-on-one drill – you guys have seen me do it 1,000 times – long stride, short stride, throttle down under control and keep working to the near hip. If you do not that to him, he will make you miss every time. Kickoff return and punt return-wise, his explosiveness is incredible. He is from zero to 40, bam. Extremely fast. Like I said, he is very courageous for a smaller athlete. You do not get a good hit on hi. It is amazing. He knows when to use the sideline. He knows when to cut it back. He has really good vision. You think he has that running back type vision there, that great returning vision that we talk about the great returners have. He is going to make me real nervous. I already woke up a few times last night thinking about him.”


On RB Jerome Ford returning kickoffs:

“First of all, he has not done it since high school so it has been a crash course for him all summer. He has worked extremely hard. We spent a lot of hours together getting him prepared, and we made the decision the night before the game. Let’s go. (Head) Coach (Kevin Stefanski) did. I think it was a good one. He has that running back vision. He has that toughness. He is going to run hard. He is going to make people miss. He is not afraid. You saw him when he bounced it outside the other day, he tried to run through two guys and got three extra yards and got to the 26-27-yard line. I think he has enough speed to break a big way, and he has toughness and courage and he has really good vision. He should help us there.”


On if Ford can return punts:

“He is not a punt returner.”


On why Ford is not a punt returner:

“I am still trying to train the punt returners I have – you are killing me (laughter).”


On if Felton is thinking too far ahead and that leading to challenges fielding punts last week:

“He is probably trying to do too much. He knows that they have to avoid him. He does not have to avoid them. By rule, they have to give him a chance to catch the ball. Sometimes he is trying to do too much before he catches the ball and thinking too much ahead – two steps ahead instead of one. We will rein it back a little bit. Ball possession: the No. 1 he knows, he knows that. I asked him in the meeting today and his answer every time, ‘Ball possession, Coach.’ He knows what I am going to ask him. When the returner or anybody in our organization has the ball in their hands, they are the most important person in our organization. I think our guys know that.”


On the new running Brownie the Elf midfield logo:

“Ball security, it is bad – he is not covering up the tip of the ball; that is the first thing I think of (laughter). His hand is back here and the tip of the ball is exposed. I can’t believe they are going to put that at the 50-yard line (laughter). He will not be our returner, no.”


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